Deerham abounded in inns. How they all contrived to get a living, nobody could imagine. That they did jog along somehow, was evident; but they appeared to be generally as void of bustle as were their lazy sign-boards, basking in the sun on a summer’s day. The best in the place, one with rather more pretension to superiority than the rest, was the Golden Fleece. It was situated at the entrance to Deerham, not far from the railway station; not far either from Deerham Court; in fact, between Deerham Court and the village.
As Lionel approached it, he saw the landlord standing at its entrance—John Cox. A rubicund man, with a bald head, who evidently did justice to his own good cheer, if visitors did not. Shading his eyes with one hand, he had the other extended in the direction of the village, pointing out the way to a strange gentleman who stood beside him.
“Go as straight as you can go, sir, through the village, and for a goodish distance beyond it,” he was saying, as Lionel drew within hearing. “It will bring you to Verner’s Pride. You can’t mistake it; it’s the only mansion thereabouts.”
The words caused Lionel to cast a rapid glance at the stranger. He saw a man of some five-and-thirty or forty years, fair of complexion once, but bronzed now by travel, or other causes. The landlord’s eyes fell on Lionel.
“Here is Mr. Verner!” he hastily exclaimed. “Sir”—saluting Lionel—“this gentleman was going up to you at Verner’s Pride.”
The stranger turned, holding out his hand in a free and pleasant manner to Lionel. “My name is Cannonby.”
“I could have known it by the likeness to your brother,” said Lionel, shaking him by the hand. “I saw him yesterday. I was in town, and he told me you were coming. But why were you not with us last night?”
“I turned aside on my journey to see an old military friend—whom, by the way, I found to be out—and did not get to Deerham until past ten,” explained Captain Cannonby. “I thought it too late to invade you, so put up here until this morning.”
Lionel linked his arm within Captain Cannonby’s, and drew him onwards. The moment of confirmation was come. His mind was in too sad a state to allow of his beating about the bush; his suspense had been too sharp and urgent for him to prolong it now. He plunged into the matter at once.
“You have come to bring me some unpleasant news, Captain Cannonby. Unhappily, it will be news no longer. But you will give me the confirming particulars.”
Captain Cannonby looked as if he did not understand. “Unpleasant news?” he repeated.
“I speak”—and Lionel lowered his voice—“of Frederick Massingbird. You know, probably, what I would ask. How long have you been cognisant of these unhappy facts?”
“I declare, Mr. Verner, I don’t know what you mean,” was Captain Cannonby’s answer, given in a hearty tone. “To what do you allude?”